I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I had no clue what China was like. My mother who was from Taiwan, constantly nagged about China being an underdeveloped country. She kept emphasizing that we had to squat and hover over the toilet if we wanted to use the restroom. She even told me that people there love to spit on the floor and blow their nose into their hands. However, my dad who was also from Taiwan, embraced his Chinese roots. Although he did say that some of the things my mother said was true, he also said that going to China can open my mind and change my life. Little did I know, it would.
In my mind, when somebody mentions China I tend to conjure up a Red Communist-ruled third world country devastated with the plague. I constantly envision the lack of sanitation in bathrooms, the poor quality of life, and China’s “brainwashed” people. Of course it could not be as terrible as what I have kept imagining. Right?
In the summer of 2005, my family decided to spend their vacation in China. Going through all the dreadful images in my head, I winced at this thought. Knowing that I couldn’t stay alone in the United States, I reluctantly went with my family.
Upon arrival, everything I envisioned about China turned out to be true. The first thing I noticed was the humidity. It hit my face like a bunch of sumo wrestlers in a sauna. I could feel the sweat of other people running down my face due to the stenchy humidity. On our way to our rented apartment, I saw so many homeless people sitting on the sidewalk selling whatever-you-can-think-of for dirt cheap. I even witnessed teenage boys pickpocketing money from foreigners. As expected, my visit had not been so pleasant so far. After settling into my aunt’s apartment, my parents surprised us. Being the typical Asians my parents are, they sent me to a summer camp of Oxford American University in Shenzhen, China. I was completely against it but they already spent money on dorms and classes for us. Still, I thought to myself angrily, “Oh great… my summer cannot get any better.”
On the first day of school camp, I was placed into a “high school-leveled” English class filled with Chinese native speakers. Feeling a bit nervous, I quickly chose the seat closest to the door. I took a quick glance at the room and behind me was a tall Chinese boy. “Do you come from America?” he asked in an accent. I turned around and answered, “Yes, I’m American” in half English and half Mandarin. “Hi, my name is Danny,” he politely replied. Despite being tall, Danny was actually quite chubby male and looked about a year older than me. I introduced myself to him and, to my surprise, we got along! Afterwards, we spent the night in our dorms getting to know each other.
Diligent and hard-working as he was, Danny was struggling with the material in class. He asked me for advice, so I took a mere glance and immediately told him the answer. I thought to myself rashly, “Why am I in this ‘high-leveled’ English class? This material is too easy and insignificant” and I felt as if I were back in elementary school. Danny handed me a list of vocabulary words and asked me to help him describe or define the word as best I could. So, patiently, I did what asked me to do, until I stumbled over the word “compassion.” I pondered over about this word; I couldn’t think of any straightforward and simple synonyms or could I explain the word in Chinese, so I simply said, “with heart”. Danny expressed a nod of approval showing that he knew what I meant.
In exchange, he taught me many Chinese and even several Korean words. Even though I spoke in broken Mandarin, he completely understood me and was completely compassionate and patient to teach me. I may have taught Danny what “compassion” meant, but he was the one who truly taught me what compassion was.
Compassion is a quality that we should all want to attain. Ideally, working with a partner as closely together as we do, we can inspire each other to go just that little bit further – that extra step or even that extra mile. For example, teaching Danny made me notice how much effort it takes to teach a person. Teaching Danny motivated me not to give up and I get to gradually see the development and improvement he makes. Knowing that another person is depending on me is a method to focus less on myself and more on those around me.
From then on I began to enjoy my stay in China. Not only did I make friends in China, but my family and I were also able to visit many famous tourist spots such as the Great Wall of China and the Tomb of Terra Cotta Warriors. In a way, Danny became a tour guide for my family. It was the most fun I ever had! My mother even took pictures of Danny and me pretending to be warriors from ancient times. In addition, I must admit that their food was also amazing. It was cheap and tasty.
Danny completely changed my views about China and its people. Danny made me realize that China isn’t bad after all – that in order for me to fully appreciate another’s culture, I must show compassion. The problem was that I was only focusing on the negative aspects of the trip instead of opening my mind to new things. From being an arrogant juvenile boy, I underwent a complete change of mind and became cognizant and appreciative of the Chinese culture. I came to realize that the Chinese culture is part of my identity. Calling myself a Chinese-American is something I can be proud of.